Armistice in Alabama – ‘With Joyous Poppings of Champaign Corks’

April 29, 1865 (Saturday)

In February, Union General Edward Canby had been reinforced by much of the Army of the Cumberland. Near Mobile, he was to capture the port city if he thought possible, but to march as he could to Selma or Montgomery, Alabama. And so with 45,000 men, he was off, contested along the way by Rebels under General Richard Taylor. Though they put up a strong defense, Canby’s men were able to besiege both Spanish Fort and Fort Blakey near the city.

General Canby
General Canby

The sieges lasted little long than a week, but by April 8th, both had fallen and the Federals now held Mobile. Canby also began his march toward Montgomery on the 14th with the goal of getting his forces between Taylor’s and Joe Johnston’s in North Carolina.

Richard Taylor’s forces were mostly at Meridian, Mississippi, and Selma had already fallen, with the Taylor and Nathan Bedford Forrest escaping, and ordering that no defense of Montgomery should be made. The town fell on April 12th to Federal Cavalry. Time was slipping away for Taylor.

Before the surrender of Mobile, he had learned of Lee’s surrender, and soon after, of Lincoln’s assassination. But at that time, Joe Johnston was still under arms. Taylor was determined to fight his way to North Carolina and Johnston’s side. But as more news came to him, he began to doubt the effectiveness of such a move. And when word that President Davis and the rest of the Confederate government were en route, he had little choice but to remain.

“Granting the cause for which we had fought to be lost,” wrote Taylor after the war, “we owed it to our own manhood, to the memory of the dead, and to the honor of our arms, to remain steadfast to the last. This was received, not with noisy cheers, but solemn murmurs of approval, showing that it was understood and adopted.”

The Federals, however, were moving more swiftly than the former Richmond congress. When word came that Johnston and Sherman had established an armistice, he decided, with the Federals closing in, that the same was the best course for his own.

On this date, Canby and Taylor met to discuss the future. The latter recalled:

“Intelligence of the Johnston-Sherman convention reached us, and Canby and I were requested by the officers making it to conform to its terms until the civil authorities acted. A meeting was arranged to take place a few miles north of Mobile, where the appearance of the two parties contrasted the fortunes of our respective causes. Canby, who preceded me at the appointed spot, a house near the railway, was escorted by a brigade with a military band, and accompanied by many officers in ‘full fig.’

“With one officer, Colonel William Levy, since a member of Congress from Louisiana, I made my appearance on a hand-car, the motive power of which was two negroes. Descendants of the ancient race of Abraham, dealers in cast-off raiment, would have scorned to bargain for our rusty suits of Confederate gray. General Canby met me with much urbanity. We retired to a room, and in a few moments agreed upon a truce, terminable after forty-eight hours’ notice by either party. Then, rejoining the throng of officers, introductions and many pleasant civilities passed.

“A bountiful luncheon was spread, of which we partook, with joyous poppings of champaign corks for accompaniment, the first agreeable explosive sounds I had heard in years. The air of ‘Hail Columbia,’ which the band in attendance struck up, was instantly changed by Canby’s order to that of ‘Dixie’; but I insisted on the first, and expressed a hope that Columbia would be again a happy land, a sentiment honored by many libations.

“There was, as ever, a skeleton at the feast, in the person of a general officer who had recently left Germany to become a citizen and soldier of the United States. This person, with the strong accent and idioms of the Fatherland, comforted me by assurances that we of the South would speedily recognize our ignorance and errors, especially about slavery and the rights of States, and rejoice in the results of the war. In vain Canby and Palmer tried to suppress him.

Richard Taylor
Richard Taylor

“On a celebrated occasion an Emperor of Germany proclaimed himself above grammar, and this earnest philosopher was not to be restrained by canons of taste. I apologized meekly for my ignorance, on the ground that my ancestors had come from England to Virginia in 1608, and, in the short intervening period of two hundred and fiftyodd years, had found no time to transmit to me correct ideas of the duties of American citizenship.

“Moreover, my grandfather, commanding the 9th Virginia regiment in our Revolutionary army, had assisted in the defeat and capture of the Hessian mercenaries at Trenton, and I lamented that he had not, by association with these worthies, enlightened his understanding. My friend smiled blandly, and assured me of his willingness to instruct me. Happily for the world, since the days of Huss and Luther, neither tyranny nor taste can repress the Teutonic intellect in search of truth or exposure of error. A kindly, worthy people, the Germans, but wearing on occasions.

“The party separated, Canby for Mobile, I for Meridian….

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